Spurred by the Ferguson, Missouri shooting, President Barack Obama is calling for $75 million in federal spending to get 50,000 more police to wear body cameras that record their interactions with civilians. However, Obama is not seeking to pull back federal programs that provide military-style equipment to local law enforcement.
The president was making the announcement Monday from the White House during a series of meetings with his Cabinet, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials and others. At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of a racially charged uproar over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge the police offer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Obama is proposing a three-year $263 million spending package to increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform. The package includes $75 million for the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job.
The White House has said the cameras could help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public. It also potentially could help resolve the type of disputes between police and witnesses that arose in the Ferguson shooting.
After the shooting and resulting protests in August, Obama ordered a review of federal programs that fund military gear for local police after critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators. Obama seemed to sympathize when announcing the review over the summer.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said at the time.
Senior administration officials said Friday that five federal agencies have programs to supply the equipment that are authorized by Congress, but Obama’s focus is not supporting legislation to repeal them but to make sure there are standards to make sure the equipment is used safely.
Obama’s staff is drafting an executive order that will require federal agencies that run the programs to work with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes.
Demands for police to wear the cameras have increased across the country since Brown’s death. Some officers in the St. Louis suburb have since started wearing the cameras, and the New York Police department became the largest department in the U.S. to adopt the technology when it launched a pilot program in early September.
A report from the Justice Department, which had been in the works before the Ferguson shooting, said there’s evidence both police and civilians behave better when they know there are cameras around. The report also cites how footage from the cameras can be used to train officers.
Obama also plans to sign an executive order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will include law enforcement and community leaders. The purpose would be to examine how to reduce crime while maintaining public trust through measures like increased police training. The task force is being co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.